Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"A Series of Unfortunate Events" or "How an American Camera Bag Company Lost its Soul".

The mountain village of Namche, in the Himalaya of Nepal.

Update on the F-Stop Gear Loka camera pack.

When I first reviewed this pack, it was awesome. Great use of space, intriguing design, it carried well, and for the first two years it served me well; day hikes all over the mountains and deserts, flights to the far corners of the earth, etc. But, up until my most recent trip to Nepal had I ever worn it day in and day out, in cold temperatures, at altitude, and sweating my ass off. In short, I don’t think I had ever carried it while hiking hard for an extended amount of time.

So, deep in the Himalayas, on day three of our adventure, I was unpleasantly surprised to find all of my lenses soaked with water, my business cards destroyed, lens cloths wet – then frozen, and beads of water everywhere. The zipper had been secured tightly; there were no holes, and no rain or snow either.

“How could this be”, I thought. I closed the back panel, which was steaming in the cold air with sweat from my back, and realized that there must not be any waterproof coating on the nylon back panel. The combination of heat and moisture drives the sweat right through the material as a vapor, where, once inside the bag, it condenses into water droplets all over everything. Even my old Arcteryx backpack is still totally waterproof after ten years. This is so un-cool!

In the Maze, Canyonlands - Utah.
“What the hell!” were my first words. How could this be? It is designed and advertised as a professional adventure pack, built to carry thousands of dollars worth of camera gear into extreme environments. Clearly my day trips had not been tough enough to test the material.  How could a sheet of uncoated nylon slip into the manufacturing process? I was, to say the least, bewildered – and pissed.

The rest of the trip I had to completely zip closed the inside ICU panel, and then zip up the back panel -hardly an easy entry with this extra step. Even with this additional measure, the inside got wet, as sweat soaked through and condensed onto the inner nylon ICU fabric.

Fast forward – six weeks have passed since I have been home from Nepal. I had to shoot images in New York City in November, but made sure that I had contacted F-Stop prior to that for a return authorization number (RMA) so that once home, I could ship the bag back under warranty. The bag was shipped back on December 2nd.

Now it gets complicated.

The way I was locking my pack to a rock in Hawaii. The foam backpanel in question can be seen here.

The customer service phone number that is on the F-Stop webpage is registered to Kent, Washington. The return for warranty address is Saint Louis, Missouri. All of the 14 people who are able to answer a customer service question are located in an un-named country in Europe. The company is based, I believe, in the USA. According to customer service, there are no phones at the F-Stop facility in Missouri, only a computer. There are no North American faculty that has access to phone services – at least as far as I could determine.
The customer service staff all state, in broken English, that they can answer all question. And yet, have answers to none. The 2-second time delay between speaking, and them actually hearing, results in each party talking at the same time, with painful periods of silence in between. It is maddening. What they really do is write down your question, or order, or concern, and email it to the phoneless staff in the USA, wait for a reply, and then forward that email to you. It is a call center. There are no people at customer service that have any direct contact with the products they represent.

I spent a very frustrating week just trying to figure out if they ever got my bag as a return, let alone talk with someone about the fabric issue, design changes, and a possible replacement pack. I was so stoked about this American company, I cannot tell you how many people I have promoted this product too. Now, unless some miracle of customer service suddenly rains English speaking knowledge down on my head, I think this is going to be a deal breaker.

One week later…

I called the mysterious European country again, and started the inquiry process all over, for the third attempt. This time they assured me that someone would call me back with information, and in fact, they did call me back within ten minutes – and told me that they had made a mistake and someone from North America would contact me. This new person sent me an email stating that the camera pack was fine, was being sent back to me, and gave this insightful morsel of help…

“One recommendation is the pack be treated with a product such as Nikwax to protect against external moisture such as high altitude condensation or accumulated sweat.”

So, with a 20-year warranty on this camera pack, I am supposed to treat the foam back panel with some product from REI so that it will remain waterproof?  I have been backpacking for 30 years, and have had backpacks from various outdoor companies – North Face, Arcteryx, Black Diamond, Dana – and have never had the sweat from my back go into the pack, because they are - built to be taken into the backcountry by sweating humans!

So, in the end – this pack failed the true test of adventure; their customer service was a pitiful runner up to United Airlines, and the warranty is purely imaginative. Again, I am so disappointed in the service at this company - I so wanted them to shine above the rest, to prove an American company could stand tall for product reliability, workmanship, and integrity, but instead – just another outsourced, off-shore, phantom company without a human soul to talk with.

Gokyo Lake, Nepal.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the honest write up on this pack. You've saved me quite a bit of money.